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Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 94

Naturally the Indians were accused, for they recognized the existence of both good and evil spirits, their medicine-men cured by incantations in the belief that devils were thus driven out of their patients, and in the early history of the country the red man was credited by white settlers with powers hardly inferior to those of the oriental and European magicians of the middle ages. Cotton Mather detected a relation between Satan and the Indians, and he declares that certain of the Algonquins were trained from boyhood as powahs, powwows, or wizards, acquiring powers of second sight and communion with gods and spirits through abstinence from food and sleep and the observance of rites. Their severe discipline made them victims of nervous excitement and the responsibilities of conjuration had on their minds an effect similar to that produced by gases from the rift in Delphos on the Apollonian oracles, their manifestations of insanity or frenzy passing for deific or infernal possession. When John Gibb, a Scotchman, who had gone mad through religious excitement, was shipped to this country by his tired fellow-countrymen, the Indians hailed him as a more powerful wizard than any of their number, and he died in 1720, admired and feared by them because of the familiarity with spirits out of Hobbomocko (hell) that his ravings and antics were supposed to indicate. Two Indian servants of the Reverend Mr. Purvis, of Salem, having tried by a spell to discover a witch, were executed as witches themselves. The savages, who took Salem witchcraft at its worth, were astonished at its deadly effect, and the English may have lost some influence over the natives in consequence of this madness. "The Great Spirit sends no witches to the French," they said. Barrow Hill, near Amesbury, was said to be the meeting-place for Indian powwows and witches, and at late hours of the night the light of fires gleamed from its top, while shadowy forms glanced athwart it. Old men say that the lights are still there in winter, though modern doubters declare that they were the aurora borealis.

But the belief in witches did not die even when the Salem people came to their senses. In the Merrimac valley the devil found converts for many years after: Goody Mose, of Rocks village, who tumbled down-stairs when a big beetle was killed at an evening party, some miles away, after it had been bumping into the faces of the company; Goody Whitcher, of Ameshury, whose loom kept banging day and night after she was dead; Goody Sloper, of West Newbury, who went home lame directly that a man had struck his axe into the beam of a house that she had bewitched, but who recovered her strength and established an improved reputation when, in 1794, she swam out to a capsized boat and rescued two of the people who were in peril; Goodman Nichols, of Rocks village, who "spelled" a neighbor's son, compelling him to run up one end of the house, along the ridge, and down the other end, "troubling the family extremely by his strange proceedings;" Susie Martin, also of Rocks, who was hanged in spite of her devotions in jail, though the rope danced so that it could not be tied, but a crow overhead called for a withe and the law was executed with that; and Goody Morse, of Market and High Streets, Newburyport, whose baskets and pots danced through her house continually and who was seen "flying about the sun as if she had been cut in twain, or as if the devil did hide the lower part of her." The hill below Easton, Pennsylvania, called Hexenkopf (Witch's head), was described by German settlers as a place of nightly gathering for weird women, who whirled about its top in "linked dances" and sang in deep tones mingled with awful laughter. After one of these women, in Williams township, had been punished for enchanting a twenty-dollar horse, their sabbaths were held more quietly. Mom Rinkle, whose "rock" is pointed out beside the Wissahickon, in Philadelphia, "drank dew from acorn-cups and had the evil eye." Juan Perea, of San Mateo, New Mexico, would fly with his chums to meetings in the mountains in the shape of a fire-ball. During these sallies he left his own eyes at home and wore those of some brute animal. It was because his dog ate his eyes when he had carelessly put them on a table that he had always afterward to wear those of a cat. Within the present century an old woman who lived in a hut on the Palisades of the Hudson was held to be responsible for local storms and accidents. As late as 1889 two Zuni Indians were hanged on the wall of an old Spanish church near their pueblo in Arizona on a charge of having blown away the rainclouds in a time of drouth. It was held that there was something uncanny in the event that gave the name of Gallows Hill to an eminence near Falls Village, Connecticut, for a strange black man was found hanging, dead, to a tree near its top one morning.


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